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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WANTED: women's retailer -- professional attire

I need a women's retailer who sells professional attire to join us for a Professional Image event at Walsh College in Troy, Michigan on Thurs, April 29 from 6-8:30p. We need a retailer who can provide their own models and maybe 4-5 outfits, including professional (interview) suits as well as professional work attire (including casual fridays) for a fashion show. We would prefer they bring their own "models" but we can pull from our staff if needed.

I'm holding a meeting at Walsh next week with the men's clothing retailer and our image consultant who is delivering a presentation at the workshop. I'm hoping to have the women's retailer locked in by this date so they can join this meeting.

I do not have a budget to pay for this retailer. They will have the opportunity to distribute discount coupons, if desired.

We are expecting 100-130 attendees, all students and alumni of Walsh College. Walsh is the area's only all-business college. Many attendees are already in the workforce, while some may be just getting started. In today's economy, having the opportunity to display your professional fashions to a captive audience may be just the *free advertising* that you need to help make your monthly goal. :)

Let me know if you have anyone in mind. Please feel free to forward. Have them contact me asap at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Changing careers? First career? Get Thee to an Informational Interview

The current economy has placed many workers-in-transition in the position to evaluate their careers, something they never expected. We have all grown accustomed to the fact that if you do your job, show up on time, and do what is expected (and maybe even do MORE than what is expected), that we'll be gainfully employed until we retire.

So many people have had this dream shattered over the past two years. I've met many people with this scenario and my heart goes out to them. Even my dad, who was employed with the same company for over 20 years, was let go from his job. He had planned to retire within the next 10 years. He was a hard worker, often working overtime or coming in on weekends when requested. But like so many others, his position was eliminated and he was escorted out of the building with a box of possessions from his desk. Ouch. And then some. He's fine now, but it was pretty traumatic at the time.

For many others, their layoff occurred at different points in their career and they've been taking advantage of the many free workshops and networking events for the unemployed. Some are still looking and waiting for the job they had to come back with a different employer, while others have bid farewell to that career and have turned their heads in another direction. These "career changers" are the inspiration behind this blog entry.

One technique I suggest to job seekers who are changing careers is to set up an informational interview. An informational interview is different than a job interview because you are NOT interviewing for a job. You are instead interviewing a person so gather information. These informational interviews are highly suggested by many career counselors as a way to learn more about a particular industry and career path.

Let's take the example of Steve (name and some details have been changed to protect the identity of this person). Steve worked in retail for over 20 years, moving into progressively higher positions. He changed retailers every few years (common for the industry) and made minor gains in salary and job titles. His experience has included hiring and firing employees, managing schedules, maintaining inventory, and working with the public in a sales capacity. Steve left the retail industry after the last holiday season and is now considering moving into a non-retail position, possibly with HR or Sales.

When I was speaking with Steve about his background, I suggested he first revise his resume to highlight the skills that showcase his experience in HR and eliminate any accomplishments from his resume that aren't specific to this new field. I also suggested to Steve that he set up an informational interview with a person in my network who has worked in various positions in HR over the years.

The process for an informational interview is as follows:
  1. The job seeker requests a connection to the person they would like to set the informational interview with. I highly recommend doing this through your LinkedIn network.
  2. When the connection is made, the job seeker mentions to the interviewer that they are seeking an informational interview to learn more about jobs in their industry, and also mention that you are NOT looking for a job; just to gain some insights.
  3. Mention that you are looking for just 15-20 minutes of their time. If they give you 45 minutes, they like you.
  4. Bring your resume, but do NOT offer it unless it comes up in conversation or they ask for it.
  5. At the start of the interview, mention again that you are NOT looking for a job, but you are looking to gain some insights from their perspective.
  6. Ask questions: how did they get their start in the industry? What positions are available/in demand? Based on your background, how would they suggest you get your foot in the door? Use this time to pick their brain.
  7. Dress professionally, just as you would in a job interview.
  8. Have a list of questions prepared. Don't rely on this person to guide your career.
  9. As you approach the 20 min mark and if you're not finished with your discussion, mention that you want to be considerate of time and ask if they have a few minutes. (this gives them an "out" that might be awkward for them to mention, but will be appreciated)
  10. At the end of the interview, request a business card, thank them for their time and their insights.
  11. Send a thank you note.
  12. Did you read #11? Make sure you send a thank you note. Yes, it's THAT important.
  13. Follow up on their tips and send them a follow-up note. You never know where your future will lead and it's good to start building your network now, before you're even in the industry.
Regardless of your circumstances or the reason for your career transition, an informational interview can provide you with insights that you won't learn during the job interview process, or even through casual networking. It's important to have the right qualifications to move into the career, but you might not know what the "right" qualifications are unless you've had an informational interview with someone who works in the field.

From the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the desk for informational interviews, I'll say they are helpful and essential if you are moving into your first professional career or moving into a new field. And as someone who is passionate about marketing, it is flattering to me when someone asks to pick my brain over coffee. I also like to know that I could be helping someone in the quest for their next career. Because hey -- if we all help someone else out -- it's going to help improve the economy all around, wouldn't you agree?

As for Steve: I'm going to keep close tabs on him. I have a feeling his career change will be the start of some great things.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

LinkedIn tip-of-the-week: ANSWERS (wanna be an expert?)

Quick tip-of-the-week on LinkedIn: ANSWERS section -- earning "Expert" ratings

LinkedIn has a great site feature where you can post questions or answer questions. If you're familiar with this area of the site, you know that some connections have been rated as an "EXPERT" for questions that they have answered. We all have egos - and we'd all like to be ranked as an expert, right? Plus, it provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your professional expertise and be rated by peers.

One technique I've learned is identify low-hanging fruit. Look for the questions within your area of expertise and identify questions with five or fewer responses. Chances are, these are the tough questions or those that aren't appealing to anyone else. The fewer people who respond means more of an opportunity to be ranked as a "good" or "BEST" response - earning you the highly coveted "EXPERT" ranking by LinkedIn.

read more here:

Friday, March 19, 2010

LinkedIn Etiquette: Beyond "please" and "thank you"

If you're reading this post -- my guess is that you're not quite sure of etiquette on LinkedIn. Or, maybe you think you know it all and want some reassurance. Regardless, here are a few social media etiquette tips that I've learned over the past few years of using LinkedIn.

1. Personalize EVERY invitation to connect.
If you use the standard "I'd like you ask you to join my professional network on LinkedIn" it's like the equivalent of sending spam. It tells your requested future connection you don't even care enough to type a few keystrokes to refresh their memory. Or, you really don't know them and you're secretly hoping they'll connect with you so you can try to sell them something. Give your contact a frame of reference and a personal greeting.

2. Say please.
Wouldn't you rather be ASKED than TOLD to do a favor for someone on LinkedIn? Whether it's requesting to connect with someone, asking their insight on a topic, or help with a problem, saying "please" shows respect.

3. Say thank you.
When someone gives you something of value or helps you out, you should say thank you. Always. Even on LinkedIn.

4. If you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all.
If you've ever read through the "ANSWERS" section and seen a snide comment, you know what I'm talking about. Nobody wants to read sarcasm on a professional networking site.

5. Don't send out blanket solicitation or "just checking in" messages.
Yes, it's a professional networking site. No, this does not give you the right to send out professional yet unpersonal messages. If you really care to keep in touch, personalize the message to me with "Hi Brenda...." instead of "We haven't chatted in a while and..." It comes across as very impersonal and shows me that you don't get it.

6. If you want to apply to a job within my network, make sure you're 100% qualified and 100% interested in the job.
I'm always more than willing to help anyone in my LinkedIn network to connect, especially when it comes to applying for a job. But if I help to make a connection for you and then you decide against applying for the job or acting on my approval to forward the invitation to a connection, it could potentially impact my credibility with that connection. Plus that connection is going to remember it the next time I ask them for a favor.

7. Don't post your birthday, marital status, horoscope sign, or any other personal information on your LinkedIn profile.
Enough said. This message brought to you by

8. If you don't feel comfortable giving or receiving a recommendation, don't.
I've ignored requests to offer recommendations for people for a variety of reasons. It could be that we don't know each other well enough yet. If you're giving a recommendation and I don't accept it, it could be because the recommendation you're offering me doesn't seem genuine based on our professional knowledge of each other. Your professional credibility is tied to the recommendations you give and receive.

9. Use a professional photo on your profile. You don't need to pay a professional photographer, but try to at least pose on a solid, light-colored background wearing professional attire, with a head-and-shoulder shot. Smiling. No sunglasses. No full-length body shot. Nobody else in the picture with you. Even if they are cropped out. (yeah, we can tell)

10. Help your network.
Be a resource. LinkedIn is not just about you. It's about how you can help your network.

Please share this with a connection who is just getting starting on LinkedIn, and tell them your favorite tip from this list. And if you're already following ALL these tips, take a moment to pat yourself on the back.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

If you know Conan O'Brien, tell him Warren Toastmasters needs a speaker

At the Warren Toastmasters club meeting tonight, I presented a speech on our club's upcoming Open House event, which we are scheduling for Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 6:30 p.m.

The objective of an open house is to generate awareness about Toastmasters in our community and to hopefully sign up some new members. We're a small club and looking to grow and could use some new members to help us along the way, and we'll help them in their quest for communication and leadership development (or in "public speaking" as is what most people know about Toastmasters).

I spoke to my club about the event basics: who, what, where, why, why, and how.

In addition, the marketing side of me is always thinking about the audience perspective, the WIFM or "what's in it for me." So I mentioned that our audience for this event is going to be the unemployed. I strongly believe Toastmasters offers job seekers a lot of great skills that will help them in their job search, including confidence, practice in thinking on your feet for those tough interview questions, unique networking opportunities, camaraderie, and lots more. Click here to read more about benefits for Job Seekers. Toastmasters helped me personally in my job search and I know it's helped others, too. Plus, we won't ever fire you from Toastmasters. Even when the economy gets bad.

But we need something really special to make this a fabulous Open House. And that's where you can help. I read that Conan O'Brien had started a twitter page because he's not able to be working right now. His bio on twitter reads: "I had a show. Then I had a different show. Now I have a Twitter account." Now that is funny.

So I'm thinking he knows what career transition is like. Granted, his perspective is a lot different that those unemployed in Michigan, but he's in transition nonetheless and has a perspective he's dying to share. And I'm sure he has plenty of free time right now.

So I tweeted asking Conan if he'd like to come visit Michigan and be a speaker at our Open House. View my tweet and RT me here. No, he hasn't replied nor do I expect that he will. He has over 400,000 followers and growing steadily.

brendameller hey @conanobrien Warren,MI Toastmasters club is seeking a speaker for Apr openhouse 4 a pep talk on finding new careers in MI. U interested?

I admit I'd probably have an easier time getting a commitment from Conan if our club were anywhere in the Los Angeles area, but hey -- if you don't ask the question, the answer is always "no," right?

Now I have thought this through a bit. If he were to agree to come to Warren, Michigan to be our guest speaker, we'd definitely need a larger room and we'd probably partner with a few other local Toastmasters clubs and move to a larger venue. I have connections and I could make the arrangements.

And I know it's a long shot that we'd be able to book a celebrity like Conan for a Toastmasters Open House. Because come on -- it's a Toastmasters Open House. But stranger things have happened. And sometimes celebrities do the unexpected because it is unexpected. And it's funny. And it makes the news.

If nothing else, the one good thing that this recession has done is given the Detroit area more visibility throughout the US. Hey -- we even had Jay Leno in town a few months back for a free event for the unemployed, so people know we're here and that we need help.

So my plea to you: if you know Conan, ask him if he'd like to come out to the Detroit area to give job seekers a pep talk on career transition at our Toastmasters Open House. Michigan could use the comic relief and we promise to bring in a crowd for his talk. Or maybe you don't know Conan, but you might know of another local comedian, or a celebrity who used to live in Michigan, or someone who would be a great motivational speaker for the unemployed. If you do, please send me a message on Twitter ( or reply to this blog. Our Warren meeting room holds about 50 and I plan to fill every seat for our Open House event.

Warren Toastmasters Open House
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
6:30 - 8 p.m.

No, we don't have a speaker or travel budget, but we can promise you that it will be one fabulous Open House. And the speaker can help provide inspiration for a few people out of work while helping to give some visibility to our great Toastmasters International organization.

And that is no joke. :)